Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia and Herzegovina) has made significant progress over the past five years in reforming its childcare system, however significant challenges remain to ensure every child’s right to grow up in a family environment.
The number of children without parental care can only be estimated (the definition of ‘without parental care’ is not a legal term nor is it in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s child-protection data management system). According to most recent (2015) official government statistics, the number of children without parental care in Bosnia and Herzegovina was 2,435 (0.35 percent of the child population).
UN Guidelines on Alternative Care for Children emphasise that poverty should not be a reason to enter alternative/institutional care. All means possible, including social protection provisions, should be taken to prevent this. Yet, according to a 2016 UNICEF Situation Analysis, economic factors drive one-third of children into alternative care. Moreover, the study found that a majority of children in alternative care (64 percent) reportedly have at least one living parent.
Institutional care, especially in the long-term, can have harmful effects on children’s emotional, social and cognitive development. It can cause developmental delays and attachment disorders, through the lack of opportunities to form selective attachments due to low staff-to-child ratios, shift work and a high frequency of staff turnover. Children below the age of three are particularly at risk of permanent damage.
Institutional care should be a measure of last resort and, whenever possible, for the shortest possible time. Yet there is still an over-reliance on institutions for children without parental care and children with disabilities in general. The study found almost half (48.5 percent) of children without parental care were living in institutions. The number was even higher for children with disabilities and without parents (70.7 percent) and for children under three without parents (87 percent).